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Ballet's ups and downs

When a journalist addressed Karen Kain as "prima ballerina" in 1974 the dancer quickly corrected him: "I wouldn't go that far." Kain didn't know at the time that she would one day become Canada's most popular dancer. The ballerina from Hamilton went on to draw ovations from international audiences, with performances of "Swan Lake" to the more risqué "Carmen." By the time she retired in 1997 after 27 years as a dancer with the National Ballet, Kain had more than earned the title prima ballerina.

When she first started dancing with the National Ballet, Karen Kain said she needed to be constantly "jumping and kicking" her legs on stage. After decades of dancing ballet, Kain tells the CBC's Peter Gzowski she's now more at peace with her dancing. In this radio clip, Kain explains she's learned to show just as much emotion in moments of stillness on stage.

On her 20th anniversary as principal dancer with the National Ballet, the ballerina also talks about more difficult times. Several years ago Kain considered quitting the ballet. It's a time she refers to as her "Giant Slump."
• Kain said that in the late 1970s trying to satisfy other people's expectations made her feel "exhausted, depressed and anxious." She also became overly critical of her own work, which took a toll on her dancing.
• In her autobiography, Kain says director Betty Oliphant came backstage in 1980 after a "less than glorious" performance of Giselle and said, "I can tell you're seriously depressed and I think you should get some help."

• After two years of therapy and realizing she was "a classic workaholic and perfectionist" Kain began to enjoy life and her dancing performance improved again.
Medium: Radio
Program: Morningside
Broadcast Date: June 15, 1989
Guest(s): Karen Kain
Host: Peter Gzowski
Duration: 17:13

Last updated: January 23, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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